1 Cor 5:13 is the general equity of Deut 22:21 [Brandon Adams]

Brandon Adams
Brandon Adams

[Here is one of the post that we talked a little about on yesterday’s Dunker Bunker Podcast]

Brandon Adams, over at Reformed Libertarian, writes:

WCF 19.4:


To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require.


Many reformed Christians today, who have grown tired of today’s moral relativism, turn to WCF 19.4 in an effort to develop a political philosophy. The Law of God, they say, must be our only standard. We must follow God’s law, or man’s law. And God has given a rather detailed list of how that law applies to states in the Mosaic Law. Of course, those laws were particular to Israel, but if we change the details, the laws are still God’s ideal for states. So, we exchange language about the land of Canaan for the land of California, and “voilla!” we’re left with the “general equity” of any give Mosaic law.


The problem, however, is that is not the meaning of WCF 19.4. The 2nd London Baptist Confession helpfully phrases it slightly differently:


To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only being of moral use. *1 Cor. 9:8-10


LBCF clarifies that judicial laws do not oblige anyone by virtue of their being part of the Mosaic law. It is only their general equity that is of broadly moral use. But if general equity does not mean swapping “California” for “Canaan”, what does it mean?


John Calvin
John Calvin

The confession’s position followed Calvin, and others.


It is a fact that the law of God which we call the moral law is nothing else than a testimony of natural law and of that conscience which God has engraved upon the minds of men. Consequently, the entire scheme of this equity of which we are now speaking has been prescribed in it. Hence, this equity alone must be the goal and rule and limit of all laws. (Institutes IV.xx.15-16)


Dr. Richard Barcellos
Dr. Richard Barcellos

Richard Barcellos adds:


The equity that an old covenant judicial law might possess does not come from the particular old covenant judicial law itself. It is simply an application of moral/natural/universal law to Israel’s unique, covenantally conditioned national life. So, there may be principles in particular old covenant judicial laws that transcend the old covenant. But the temporary law does not establish what constitutes equity. It is a unique illustration/application of it. Hence, the equity predates and even transcends the old covenant.


The general equity was the moral law that the judicial laws, unique to Israel, were based on. Thus it is the moral law that continues to be of use. The judicial laws only help provide us with specific examples of how the moral law was applied to Israel. Therefore, we do not reason from Canaan to California (1 step), but from Canaan to moral law to California (2 steps).


This can be better understood by recognizing the distinction between positive law and moral law…

Read 1 Cor 5:13 is the general equity of Deut 22:21

6 Replies to “1 Cor 5:13 is the general equity of Deut 22:21 [Brandon Adams]”

  1. So where does incest fall into this? I don’t think it can be moral law since it wasn’t always wrong for all people at all times to marry blood relatives prior to the law of Moses:

    Would you say it’s Positive civil law that’s still morally binding today?

    LBC 25.4. Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity, forbidden in the Word; nor can such incestuous marriages ever be made lawful, by any law of man or consent of parties, so as those persons may live together as man and wife.

    The larger catechism places incest as forbidden under the 7th commandment, which makes sense because by then incest was wrong, but I don’t think incest can be moral law:

    Q. 139. What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment?
    A. The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required,z are, adultery, fornication,a rape, incest,b sodomy, and all unnatural lusts…

    Here’s the Baptist Catechism:

    Q77. What is forbidden in the seventh commandment?
    A. The seventh commandment forbiddeth all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions (Mt. 15:19, 5:28; Eph. 5:3, 4).

    Do you know any reformed Baptist resources that answers this question? I think this pastor said it was civil law that’s still binding (I’m assuming morally binding):

    I think I was wrong in initially thinking it was a special case of moral law:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *